Two exoplanets have been proven to be fake. The scientific community is gradually coming to terms with a new revelation that two supposedly Earth like planets circling a star about 22 light years away from Earth do not exist after all. It has been barely five years since the two rocky planets, Gliese 581d and Gliese 581g, were “discovered” orbiting the red dwarf star known as Gliese 581. The news has some commentators proclaiming that the search for habitable planets outside the solar system is futile, but this is unlikely to deter astronomers from searching further.
Of the two exoplanets, Gliese 581g was considered the most likely to have conditions which could support life. The discovery of the planet was announced in September 2010 by Paul Butler and Steven Vogt, two American scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science and the University of California respectively. The discovery of Gliese 581d had been published in 2009.
Butler and Vogt measured wobbles coming out of the star’s spectrum and concluded these signals were caused by a planet about three times the size of the Earth in Gliese 581’s Goldilocks zone. A star’s Goldilocks zone is a region that is just the right distance from the star itself for water to exist in liquid form. Earth, for example, revolves around the sun, perpetually trapped in the Goldilocks zone.
According to a paper published in the latest edition of the journal Science, the wobbles detected by Butler and Vogt were real, but instead of being caused by a planet’s gravitational pull, they could be explained by activity within the star itself. According to the lead author of the paper, Paul Robertson of Penn State University, current researchers used a more accurate method of measuring shifts in the spectral signals released from distant astronomical objects. After correcting their observational data to allow for the star’s own magnetic activity and inter-stellar noise, the signals attributed to Gliese 581g and 581d disappeared.
The big question to arise from these new revelations is whether this is bad or good news in the scientific community’s spirited search for habitable planets outside our own solar system. Now that Exoplanets Gliese 581d and Gliese 581g have been proven fake, is the search for more exoplanets futile? For scientists in this field, it is disappointing to know that such potentially promising worlds in the search for extraterrestrial life are nothing more than an illusion.
However, the fact that researchers are discovering ever more accurate methods of identifying such worlds should be considered good news. In fact, the Penn State researchers used their data to confirm the existence of three other planets in the Gliese 381 system: b, c and e. However, the three are located too close to the star for life as known on Earth to exist.
At present, there have been 42 reports of potentially habitable planets, all of which are at least ten light years away from Earth. With these two now potentially struck off the list, there are still dozens of candidates to provide more hope. Considering it was just five years ago that the tools and technology for studying such bodies came to be, experts say there is every reason for scientists to stay hopeful. These latest reports suggest there is a need to re-examine the data used to prove the existence of other exoplanets, but it would be too premature to suggest the current processes used in such missions are flawed or that the search for identifying these exoplanets is futile just because exoplanets Gliese 581d and Gliese 581g have been proven fake.
By: Rebecca Savastio